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What's on in the US: Photography from the serious to the silly

A clever eye and sly humour at Throckmorton, Nash at Schickler, Bidgood at Paul Morris, Cook at Mitchell-Innes & Nash

If Hans Bellmer had gone to the beach, he might have come up with “Big fun with Billy.” Depicting a doll in a variety of locations and amusing situations, Dianora Niccolini has fashioned a series of photographs that manage nimbly to toe the line between cute and odd. Although she may not be a household name, Niccolini has been working for the past 25 years. Her pictures at Throckmorton Gallery display a clever eye and a sly sense of humour that are nicely fitting for a summer show.

Graham Nash is familiar to most people as one of the harmonising vocalists of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Few are aware, however, that his interest in photography is probably as deeply rooted as his passion for music. Nash’s father was an amateur photographer, and Nash has recounted how “I had a camera before I had a guitar, and I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures. Then came financial success with my music which allowed me to collect.”

The earliest picture in this exhibition at Howard Schickler Gallery is a self-portrait dating from 1974, but most of the pieces on view were taken in the 1990s. Nash has an eye for incongruous moments marked with a certain quiddity. And his vision is clearly informed by his collecting activity as well as his experiences; he seems to have drawn lessons from a diverse group of mentors, ranging from Eugene Atget, who chronicled Paris at the turn of the century, to more contemporaneous photographers like Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Interestingly, all of these pictures are presented as Iris prints, done by Nash Editions, reflecting Nash’s role as one of the pioneers of new printing techniques. He has commented that “Making a meaningful photograph is a lot like making meaningful music, and I’ve always understood and appreciated that.”

Before Pierre et Giles, before Jeff Koons, or even David LaChapelle, there was James Bidgood. Based in New York and at his creative peak during the 1960s, Bidgood created fantastical sets featuring vibrant colours, exaggerated props and outré costumes. Most famous for his film “Pink Narcissus”, which stands as a cult classic of camp, Bidgood also created a body of still photographs that fuse the aesthetic of male physique magazines with a sense of glamour that prefigures the glittery excess of glam rock in the 70s. Amazingly, his current show at Paul Morris Gallery is the first exhibition of Bidgood’s work in New York, and it comes on the heels of a Taschen’s 1999 monograph, which reintroduced the artist’s imagery to an art world now conversant with constructed realities.

It was said that the Dutch genre painters of the 17th century painted what was at their elbow. Much the same could be said of Marianna Cook’s most recent exhibit titled, appropriately, “Close at hand” at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. Cook is renowned as an accomplished portraitist. Previous exhibitions and publications, including “Generations of women”, “Mothers and sons”, “Fathers and daughters”, and “Couples”, all give ample evidence of her affinity for the iconography of intimate relationships. Her latest work is both a departure from and a logical extension of this interest. Her subject matter has shifted from the personal to inanimate, everyday objects.

Robert Miller Gallery is the first American venue for a major travelling retrospective of the photography of Herbert List. The sizable exhibition is organised by the City Museum of Munich in conjunction with the Estate of Herbert List, and is accompanied by a monograph published by Schirmer/Mosel. This museum-quality show affords viewers the opportunity to look at a broad spectrum of List’s oeuvre.

Born in Hamburg in 1903, List grew up in the Weimar Republic, and had a wide-ranging group of acquaintances, including the British writer, Stephen Spender, whose novel The temple portrayed their friendship. In 1936, List was forced to leave Germany, relocating first to London, and then to Paris and, finally, to Greece. His work was influenced by the Surrealists, but List developed his own vocabulary. Towards the end of his life, he abandoned photography, but he left behind a corpus of photographs that rival those of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï or Bill Brandt.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A clever eye and sly humour at Throckmorton'